Horse Breed: Thoroughbred

Horse breed: Thoroughbred

Horse Cultures of the World

Horse Breed: Thoroughbred - photo by Rennett Stowe - Globetrotting horse riding holidays

Name of breed: Thoroughbred, or English Thoroughbred

Country of origin: England

Breed origin: One of the best-known horse breeds in the world, the Thoroughbred was developed in England by crossing native English mares with Arabian, Barb and Turkoman (today’s Akhal-Teke) stallions to create the Thoroughbred that we know and love today. All modern Thoroughbred horses’ bloodlines can be traced back to three stallions that were imported into England in the 17th and 18th centuries: the Byerley Turk in the 1680s, the Darley Arabian in 1704 and the Godolphin Arabian in 1729. From these stallions, a type of horse was carefully bred that combined the English mares’ strength with the oriental stallions’ speed and spirit. Somehow, a few generations later, only one male descendant of each stallion was left to sire offspring: Matchem, grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, Herod, great-great-grandson of the Byerley Turk, and Eclipse, the great-great grandson of the Darley Arabian. These stallions, possessing and reliably passing on the characteristics of the Thoroughbred, were all born around the mid-18th century. They dominated the racing scene in Great Britain and Ireland, which was by then very popular thanks to this new, faster type of horse. The General Stud Book for the English Thoroughbred was created by James Weatherby in 1791.

At first, longer races (up to four miles, or 6.4 kilometres) were in vogue. But by the end of the 18th Century, England’s five major races were all between one and 1.75 miles long (1.6 to 2.8 kilometres). Older horses had better endurance, but younger horses ran faster over these shorter distances, so breeders focused on producing horses that not only ran faster, but could be raced younger. By now, the Thoroughbred was undeniably faster than the Arabian and the Barb, and also much taller. In fact, it was such an elegant and practical horse that it was bred by the aristoracy as a general riding horse, as well as a racehorse. Huge numbers of Thoroughbreds were also brought to North America, where they were used for everything from the Cavalry to carriage driving to racing. The American Studbook was created in 1873 and today, America has a bigger horse racing industry and more races than anywhere else on earth.

The 19th, 20th and 21st centuries saw Thoroughbreds and Thoroughbred racing spread all over the world. In the process, the breed was used to develop and improve a huge percentage of the horse breeds in existence today. These include the Standardbred (the fastest harness racing breed), the Quarter Horse, the Anglo-Arab and almost every type of warmblood.

Some of the most famous and successful racehorses of all time are (in chronological order) Pot8os, Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, Phar Lap, Secretariat, Ruffian and Black Caviar.

Distinguishing features: The Thoroughbred is a ‘hot-blooded’ breed: spirited, bold, fast and agile. The average height is 16 hands. Although they are almost always a solid colour such as bay, black, brown, chestnut or grey, other colours such as roan, palomino, and even pinto are seen on very rare occasions. With long, strong, clean and slender legs and a deep chest cavity, Thoroughbreds are bred to be well-oiled racing machines. They have powerful hindquarters, well-defined withers, strong, sloping shoulders and a long, slender neck. There is a lot of variation in the head of the Thoroughbred, but it is generally refined and well-proportioned, with wide-set, intelligent eyes.

Modern Day Thoroughbred: Known mostly for their racing ability, Thoroughbreds are extremely versatile and also excel in disciplines such as eventing, showjumping, dressage and polo. They can also be used for pleasure and trail riding (you can ride them on many of our horse riding holidays!). There are many programs around the world that help off-the-track Thoroughbreds transition to a new life. Thanks to the Thoroughbred, horse racing is now a billion-dollar industry in many countries, and each year almost USD$3.5 billion is awarded in prize money.

References: International Museum of the Horse, Oklahoma State University, Wikipedia.

Image credits: feature image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr (CC BY 2.0), preview image by Larry White via Pixabay.

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